Entitled “The American Tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001: What Will We Do?,” the panel, co-sponsored by 10 student groups, is the first of a year-long series sponsored by the Foundation.
Several panelists criticized the maverick reputation the United States has developed under the Bush administration, which did not sign the Kyoto Protocol and did not participate in the Durban conference against racism.
The most recent demonstration, some said, was the U.S.’s determination to strike after the attacks.
“[War] is not the response that a true superpower and leader in the world community would initiate,” said William A. Graham, Albertson professor of Middle Eastern studies. “We are elevating these outlaws to the status of a sovereign nation by all the talk of warfare.”
Graham, who offered perhaps the evening’s strongest criticism of the U.S.’s foreign policy, suggested that the horror of the attacks is relatively small compared to the human rights violations that occur regularly across the world.
“Even as we mourn this senseless, maniacal loss, it’s important that we remember that thousands of people are killed without [us] ever taking notice,” he said.
Others highlighted the sanctity of all human life as a reason to hesitate before taking military action. Nivedita U. Jerath ’03, from the Hindu organization Dharma, emphasized the fraternity of all human beings.
“We are brothers and sisters and we should all love and respect each other,” she said. “We should all get together to promote peace.”
But not all championed pacifism.
Benjamin Z. Galper ’02 of Harvard Hillel said the nation must stand united during times of crisis.
“Although war is not an ideal, if our armed forces do enter into combat it is imperative that we support them,” Galper said.
The other discussion of the night centered around racial profiling in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. Panelists condemned hate crimes that have targeted dark-skinned Americans as well as subtler forms of discrimination.
Ali S. Asani, professor of the practice of Indo-Muslim languages and culture, said travelling has become uncomfortable for him.
“I could tell by the way people looked at me that there was a great deal of suspicion,” said Asani about his presence on a flight.
Rita Hamad ’03, representing the Society of Arab Students, also spoke of the double burden that Arab students have had to bear in grieving with the rest of the nation about the attacks because they have also had to deal with others’ suspicion.
Heightened awareness in the wake of the attacks caused several students to think more about routine security precautions.
Identification cards were checked before students gained entrance to the event and three Harvard University Police Department officers patrolled the auditorium.
“I’ve noticed more security everywhere on campus,” said Wendy Caceres ’03. “Whenever I hear a siren, my heart just stops,” she said. “I think, ‘Is something going to happen?’”
Several audience members said they felt open dialogue was important but questioned the real impact of the panel.
“Unfortunately, I thought they were preaching to the converted,” D. Miishe Addy ’03 said. “A lot of the people who need to be spoken to weren’t here.”
—Staff writer Juliet J. Chung can be reached at email@example.com.